Most of the fish used for the original Edo style sushi are salt water fishes. Sushi chefs usually add these types of fish to their omakase menu during their individual seasons. It gives you the opportunity to taste them fresh and enjoy their unique texture, flavour and aroma. Here are some of the most popular fish used to make sushi in Japan and other countries around the world.
Bluefin tuna is a highly prized fish used in traditional Japanese raw fish delicacies like sushi and sashimi. In fact, only 20 percent of the Pacific and Atlantic bluefin tunas are consumed outside Japan. The Japanese have been eating bluefin tuna sushi since the mid 19th century when a chef marinated some pieces with soy sauce and called it “nigiri sushi”.
Today, sushi chefs serve three different cuts of this fish: akami, chu-toro and o-toro. Akami is the red meat that is at the top or back of it. Chu-toro is the milky-pink marbled meat located in the belly of the fish and it has a rich buttery texture. O-toro is the most popular part of the fish found at the fattiest portion of the belly and it melts in the tongue. Due to the popularity of bluefin tuna in Japan, which has led to overfishing of this tuna species, the fish has now been classified as an endangered species. Other kinds of tuna used in sushi dishes with a milder flavour are yellowfin tuna and big-eye tuna.
Japanese Amberjack or Yellowtail (Hamachi)
This fish is a seasonal favourite in the cold months when its meat has high fat content. Eaten cooked or raw, this fish has a buttery texture with a bold tangy flavour. In Japan over 120,000 tones of yellowtail are farmed and sold locally every year. When the fish weigh about 3 kilograms, they are harvested and sold as hamachi while others are left to grow bigger till they attain a weight of 5 kilograms. The larger yellowtails are called buri. American sushi chefs believe that yellowtail is better for nigiri or sashimi because the marbled fat gives a versatile flavour profile that can produce a dish that is spicy, salty, and rich.
Salmon is the fish of choice for making nigiri sushi rolls. It has a rich and flavourful taste and its flesh could appear as deep red or peachy orange. Many sushi lovers insist on salmon even when they are presented with several other fish options. So it is almost impossible to find a sushi restaurant that does not serve it. Wild salmon has several health benefits. Its flesh offers nourishing protein and two types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA, which the body cannot produce by itself.
Mackerel is a shiny fish that has a strong fishy flavour and aroma. It is quite popular in Japan and it is commonly served as mackerel sushi. Although many westerners tend to dislike its strong flavour, it is a very healthy fish that is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. It has the longest history in edomae-style sushi. Traditionally trained Japanese sushi chefs serve four different types of mackerel: saba, which is cured for hours with vinegar and salt; Spanish mackerel (sawara), a large variety with a whiter colour; horse mackerel (aji), a small variety with a lighter flavour and mackerel pike (sanma), a recent addition to the sushi menu in many Japanese restaurants.
Halibut (Hirame or Engawa)
Halibut has a light and delicate taste and it is used for sushi and sashimi in Japan. It is prepared fresh, aged by chilling it in a refrigerator for some hours, or through a method called “kobujime”, which involves grilling and dunking it in a bowl of ice. In Japanese, engawa is the thin muscle found at the dorsal fin on the side of the fish. It has a higher amount of fat than the other flesh of halibut with a soft and chewy texture and a distinct concentrated flavour. Usually, halibut is seasoned with grated radish, sliced scallions, chilli pepper and citrus soy sauce.
Albacore (Binncho or Bintoro)
Albacore is a relatively small member of the tuna family. But it is not found in large quantities in Japanese coastal waters so it only became a popular sushi fish in recent times. Albacore lives in the warmer parts of the sea so it has flaky, soft and buttery flesh and a milder taste compared to bluefin tuna. Expert sushi chefs use a method called tataki to increase the concentration of the flavour. They grill it quickly, cook the surface and then dunk it in ice water to tighten up the flesh. It is now a popular sushi fish and it is commonly marketed as bintoro.
Now that you have a list of the popular fish varieties used to prepare sushi in restaurants in Japan and other parts of the world, you can easily make up your mind about the type of fish you want to have with your next sushi dish. Bear in mind that due to seasonal variations, some fish may not be available in sushi restaurants throughout the year.